And the band plays on

This weekend was one of small but significant triumphs for a friend and also me. Nothing earth shaking, nothing monumental in altering the course of destiny, but small victories that took courage on both of our behalves.

My friend accomplished participating in a 5K event and finished. She may have not been the fastest but she is a winner in my mind for even attempting such a thing. It was not her idea but came from her best friend and she fought daily with herself for agreeing to participate. We talked about stopping saying no to things we really don’t want to do. In this case I am not sure she was more victorious because she did and then won on two fronts. She should celebrate the accomplishment of completing and she should rejoice in not letting her ego talk her out of not trying.

You may wonder why I chose the villain to be the ego. I did so because the ego does not always say good things to us. Matter of fact, it often is the red devil on your shoulder that convinces you to give up. She had listened often to the pleas emanating from this scourge to contrive an excuse and I admit, I was in cahoots with authoring a few for her, too. I laugh at our conversation now because the result was such a better place to be. I congratulate her for attempting the event, not choosing the easy way out, and being courageous.

My event was the culmination of something I started a wee five months ago. I went back to playing music. Like my friend above, the idea came from my dear friend and we were going to do this together. We decided to take a beginner recorder (a woodwind instrument often associate with medieval music) class. Every Tuesday night, no matter what was going on in my head, I would trundle myself off to participate with two other girls and our instructor. There were days I would start creating excuses to not go very early on and but only once did the weather keep me home. I always felt like it was a small notch in my belt to attend. I did not particularly enjoy the instructor at first, but towards the end I became a devoted student. The other two women varied in ability, but it was nice when everyone was having a good night.

But about a month ago, the instructor announce our recital. I began my generation of excuses for not playing. My friend had retreated to a home project in attempt to complete it before summer. We were going to play a piece with the big ensemble of about forty players and then our group would perform two pieces. Our quartet was me and another lady on soprano and the instructor and the fourth player on alto. As we got closer to the event, my desire for participating in this test abated reinforced with the voice I have listened to too often. The voice said; “you cannot do this, you are not good enough.”  I was not accomplished by any means, but I had held my own in class. I came into the beginner class with more skill than the other ladies but they had four months of working with the instructor before me. And unfortunately, their abilities were not evident many nights. One lady had not even been to class for three weeks and truly needed the practice.

I decided that if one woman did not show up at the last class, I would tell the instructor I was not playing. I know he would be upset because he was counting on my to carry the soprano line as he supported the other alto player. I walked into the class last week, and there she sat. She was so excited about the recital; I knew I could not disappoint her. She was counting on me for support. I was toast because I know how important it is to have someone support you.

I started to perseverate on the exposure that this event would cause. I knew I was not where I thought I should be in my abilities. I started the, “woe is me” sound track and it looped continuously in my head getting louder as the date approached. My creativity in excuses went from car trouble, cat trouble, illnesses of varying degrees……to just being a coward and not show up. I knew I would not be able to live with that. And I kept picturing the sweet face of my fellow player. The morning broke with no increased confidence and by the time noon struck I was in a full blown panic. I went out to my garden and ask for help and guidance in finding a lesson in all this. I do well with myself if I frame things as lessons. I calmed and changed the tape playing in my head. It worked.

I got to the church where we were to perform. The woman was already in our practice spot with our chairs up. Her faced beamed. She tells me, her excitement not contained, “this is the first time I have ever done anything like this in my life.” She had called her son to tell him of her achievement only to hear his lack of faith in her. This was what this was all about and my fear was gone. GONE. We practiced and I patiently guided her on some of her fingerings. It was not about anyone’s ability or even musicality. It was about showing up and being there for each other. She has many years on me and a life full of accomplishments, but this event was a personal milestone and I think there had not been too many centered so squarely on her before this. She was a supportive wife and mother and had devoted herself to others. I have no doubt as she is a nurse by profession.

I will share that we got through the practice and I was keenly aware that it was not going to sound very good in the performance. I did not care. We practiced with the large ensemble and the conductor asked us to rearrange ourselves in an attempt to put a stronger player next to her. She did not move, she was next to me one side and the closest player to the audience and the mic on the other side. She told me she wanted to be seen.

And it was over in a flash. All of a sudden the first piece began and we played through. It is very hard to hold your own when you have someone in one ear that is playing a completely different note and rhythm. This is one of the challenges in playing in an ensemble. Unfortunately her playing was not a sound that was supposed to happen and she played the whole way through loudly. Not a note was even close. But she was happy and I could see on her face it did not matter. She showed up and performed.

Next came our quartet. We ascended to our seats placed up in the sanctuary and we were totally exposed, just the four of us. I looked at the instructor with a panicked grimace and he just smiled. And it was over. It happened in a flash. Two songs. Done!

I do not remember feeling any anxiety once I got through the first very high and difficult run. Somewhere I closed off to my hearing to the dissonance coming from the other players and focused on playing with the instructor. The other players held their own and I think at a couple of points it was just the instructor and I playing. We got the very easy part at the end of the last song and I had a thought hit me hard. Sadly I should have stayed focused because I blew the last three measures and but ended perfectly. Think of someone doing a really poor cartwheel and then going “ta da” at the end. The instructor beamed. I felt my skin twingel, as I call it when I have a rush of chemicals and thought, “crap I am blushing.”

The thought that distracted me was…”I am enjoying this.” I remembered that I actually relish performing. I had been performing since I was eight. I sang solos, had my own folk group and performed in a variety of styles of music from Broadway to madrigals.  And then those measures came up and I missed them.

I closed the day as I have been when it is warm. I sit in my chair in the garden and I breathe and I let the thoughts flow and I listen for answers. Music was so much of my life. I am grateful for my friend who often kicks me where and when I need it to do something. To continue on in my remaining years without music would have been an amputation of my being. I am no virtuoso by any means, but I do have ability and it makes me whole. So I will be back in rehearsal next fall. Matter of fact I have decided to look for an opportunity to get back into singing also.

But this is the thought that made me smile. Life is like music. There is a chart with a structure pathway. There is measured time. There is harmony and discord and it as it should be because the Creator is the Maestro of all the music in life. You have the choice to play or sit back and listen. If you take the challenge, play fully and loud. If you mess up, it is totally fine. Most often, no one is aware except you. The music does not wait for you to grieve over the mistake, the band plays on whether you are on board or not. Pick up the tempo and get back in and play your best at all times. Finish with a flourish and a smile. Be grateful for the clapping of the audience and acknowledge the Conductor. Congratulate your fellow players. Then turn the page and start all over on the next piece.

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